So many tourists that go to Uzbekistan avoid Tashkent. They fly in and head straight to Samarkand via train or get a connecting domestic flight straight to Khiva. It’s completely understandable, most tour companies promote the Silk Road and nothing else. They push Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva tours and ignore the rest of the country. The average tourist assumes that these companies know what they’re doing, after all they’re in the business of showing you what they think you want to see.
To avoid Tashkent is like eating a hamburger but removing the bun, it’s like going on an amazing date but forgetting to get a kiss at the end of the night. The list of metaphors could go on and on, so to put it simply, it just doesn’t make sense. Tashkent is the beating heart of modern Uzbekistan with its own history to tell, and to only learn about a culture from a thousand years ago means you’ll never actually experience the reality of the place you’re in.
Tashkent is a real city. Wake up at 8am and you’ll see the businesspeople, teachers, labourers heading off to work, whether via the city’s amazing metro system, bus, or in their own car. You’ll get a feel for what makes the Uzbek economy tick over. When you’re in Samarkand or Bukhara you’ll get the feeling that everyone in the country sleeps in until 11am and only makes money from selling souvenirs. Depending on the time of year you’ll see university students heading off to meet friends, something you rarely see in the smaller provincial towns.
While Uzbeks are extremely proud of their cuisine, the restaurateurs and café proprietors of the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva think that the average travellers want to eat the same three or four dishes for every meal and it’s as true of travellers as it is of locals. Imagine going to Berlin and only eating sausages or Melbourne and only eating meat pies – that’s not very representative of what the locals actually eat. In Tashkent you get everything from Turkish to Japanese, Italian to Thai and everything in between. Of course, there is still a very healthy serving of the amazing traditional Uzbek food, but you’ll see how locals really like to eat.
Uzbekistan is actually an amazingly multicultural country, but like any country in the world, multicultural communities tend to congregate in the larger cities. While in Samarkand you’ll find a large Tajik population and the odd scattering of Russians, in Tashkent you’ll find people from all over the world. Head to the Chorsu Bazaar and you’ll find Korean ladies selling amazing Korean salads, kimchi, and sushi rolls. After all, Tashkent was the fourth largest city in the Soviet Union after Moscow, Leningrad (St Petersburg) and Kiev, so people immigrated here from all over the region. Only 60% of Tashkent is ethnically Uzbek, with Tartars, Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Georgians, Azeris, Uyghurs and Koreans just to name a few making up the rest. Tashkent is the place to see this multiculturalism.
Tashkent also has a history to tell. It’s not a new city, after all it was settled some time between the 5 th and 3 rd centuries BC. Conquered by the Arabs in the 8 th century during the Islamisation of the area, Tashkent is home to arguably the oldest Quran in the world. It you love your Madrasas and Mosques, then Tashkent is also home to some of the oldest in the country, with significantly less tourists. Unlike the rest of Uzbekistan there is also a lot more Russian influenced architecture in Tashkent, from old colonial buildings dating back to the 1860s through to Soviet era monumental boulevards built after the great Tashkent earthquake in 1966. To ignore this part of Uzbekistan’s history is to ignore the modern country itself.
To miss Tashkent is to miss Uzbekistan altogether and after all isn’t the reason we travel to experience other cultures? While learning about the Mongol invasion of the 12 th century is certainly interesting in itself, it doesn’t really give proper insight into what makes modern Uzbekistan tick.